When I answered the phone and the high pitched voice said, "I'm looking for Ronny Elliott," I calmly replied, "This is he." Don Garlits introduced himself politely and asked if we might go to lunch during the coming week.
Shoulda' been a dream, right? Here was my idol, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits asking me if I'm available to go to lunch. I was writing an automotive column for the Tampa Tribune at the time and he was in the process of promoting his first autobiography.
It gets better. As we pulled out from his house in Seffner, he asked, "Would you mind if we went by and picked up Connie Swingle?"
Would I mind? Would I mind! Geezus! Connie Swingle. Another hero. The lunatic, beatnik drag racing genius. When Mr. Garlits came back to the car from rousing Connie, he told me that Swingle was sharing the house with a dancer, you know, a dancer, and that there were mirrors on the ceiling in the bedroom. I'm gonna have to level here with you: that's probably about as wild as my life has gotten. I'm a simple man. I do, however, have an active imagination.
Now, Connie had been in Tampa, serving in the air force, when he began to hang around Don's Speed Shop on Nebraska Avenue. He was making a pretty decent living with his illegal street racing adventures. It soon became obvious to Garlits that Swingle had special gifts. When he got burned badly for the second time, he decided to turn the driving chores over to Connie.
Several years prior, after his first serious injuries, he had reluctantly given up the driver's seat to a young, amateur stock car driver, Art Malone. Malone had gone on to establish himself as a professional race driver in many categories. His heart remained with the fire breathing fuel dragsters, though, and he was soon competing with his former boss.